Chocolate and Poop: An Ode to Ms. Tina Fey

on April 13, 2008 in Uncategorized

Not long ago our dear friend brought his children over for a late afternoon visit, and to play with our doggie, Giles. They had spent the day at their grandmother’s house, and the three-year-old and younger of the two, proceeded to share with us the wondrous details of her adventure, as only a child can.

“I had hot chocolate. I ate a cookie. And I pooped.”

I relate this story because this charming description of the events of her day are all also the very elements that made up the highlights of last week’s brilliant episode of “30 Rock.”

And a shout out to Tina Fey is in order.

From the wicked social commentary of MILF Island (a reality-show in the vein of Survivor that features bikini clad MILFs and eighth grade boys) to the base “He can eat my poo.” (a joke that only Fey can make sound adorable, and that manages to get funnier every time she says the word, “poo” –such an accomplishment could only come from a comedienne with a child in potty training) the show consistently manages to do what so little comedy can—appeal to the masses, as well as the very smart.

And Tina Fey is very, very smart.

Her work adroitly addresses gender issues such as unequal representation in the workplace (see the writers room on “30 Rock”), and women’s body issues (as in the scathing episode where Jenna realizes that she’s more popular when overweight and is excited to see a t-shirt for sale with her tagline “Me Want Food!”).

In the October 2007 issue of Geek Magazine Fey said these sorts of issues interest her “because there is this sorta weird double standard that women want to not care about that stuff [body image and interplay of men and women] but then we all still do care about it and talk about it.” She said her goal with comedy is “talking about it but also calling bullshit on it.” Adding, “It’s a weird thing of we shouldn’t care about our bodies but if you’re gonna be Britney Spears, you’d better keep that weight off.”

Fey’s work reflects a self-consciousness about gender — yet I’m concerned that most Americans are not likely to get that her work is deeply layered, and with her snarky observations that Fey is getting the last laugh. It even took me several episodes for this to become clear, and I was originally disappointed that Fey’s alter ego Liz Lemon was a junk food addict (how the hell does she metabolize that stuff?!?) as well as a validation junkie.

Writer Sarah Seltzer shared these concerns in a Love it/Shove it column for Bitch magazine’s Summer 2007 issue in which she noted that Fey’s status as one of the premiere female comedic writers of our time should make her a feminist role model, but laments that Fey trades “on sexist stereotypes at the expense of herself—and smart girls everywhere.” She was disappointed that Fey presents Liz as a consistent fuck-up, “saddled with stereotypes attached to powerful females . . . woefully single . . .allegedly unattractive . . . eating junk food to drown her sorrows . . .”

Fey clearly writes Lemon as a geek-grrrl version of Carrie Bradshaw—can’t keep a man (because she makes tragically bad partner choices in the first place), royally screws up with network executives, and destroys a chance to own real estate when she spends the night drinking bottles of wine as she makes obsessive drunken phone calls to the co-op board (whom she thinks gave her a fake number):

Liz Lemon’s self-deprecation and the jokes on herself, are in fact, a joke on the audience. (Though I’m glad Seltzer called the question out—especially in the pages of an astute magazine such as Bitch—because it’s important to interrogate pop culture before we come to a conclusion about what it might possibly mean or represent.)

Take for example the hilarious bit from last week’s episode when Kenneth is confronting Liz for accidentally being quoted in a gossip column for calling her boss, Jack Donaghy, a “Class A Moron,” and Tracy runs up to them holding a copy of the newspaper.

Tracy: “Ms. Lemon, I can’t believe they put what you said in the paper!”

Liz: “Shhhh. How do you know about that!?!”

He hands her the paper.

Liz: “This is a Cathy cartoon.”

Tracy: “Yeah. That cartoon copied exactly what you said the other day.”

In perfect imitation we cut to a flashback of Liz waving her hands in exasperation as she says

Liz: “Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! AACK!!!!!”

And so, in one episode we have the stereotype of women obsessed with chocolate, the cookie Cougars of MILF Island, and good-girl Liz incapable of saying anything dirtier than “poo.” (On top of Tracy’s irreverence, Jack’s schemes, and Kenneth, the Page.) The Cathy reference proves that Fey is smart enough, and savvy enough to know what she’s doing; making fun of the way we make fun of women. The question is, are American viewers of “30 Rock” getting the joke?

The current issue of ET Weekly has an interview with Tina Fey available here.

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